Saturday, May 09, 2009

Book Notice: J.R. Daniel Kirk - Unlocking Romans

J.R. Daniel Kirk
Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.
Availabe at

The publication of the doctoral thesis by my buddy Daniel Kirl (of Sibboleth) is now out and it is schmicko! Back in 2002, I wrote a 25, 000 word B.A. Hons. thesis on: "The Relationship Between Resurrection and Justification in Pauline Soteriology with Special Reference to Romans". I'm glad to say that Dan Kirk has written on the same subject but in far better depth and detail than what I did back then.

This book stands in a "progressive reformed" mix as Kirk moves freely between Sanders, Wright, Hays, and Dunn one the one hand and Vos, Ridderbos, and Gaffin on the other hand. Kirk's central thesis is that the question of God's faithfulness to Israel - one of theodicy - is answered by Paul through his explication of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the manifestation of God's faithfulness and is the justification of God himself. Viewed this way, I would say that Romans for Kirk really becomes an exposition of Paul's speech in Pisidian Antioch narrated in Acts 13.32-33: "We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus".

The strenght of Kirk's volume is how he shows that the general statements about salvation must be understood in light of particulars. For example, definitions of grace, work, faith, and law must be related to YHWH's relationship to Israel and not treated as timeless theological terms (p. 5). There is a very good discussion on Rom. 4.25 (pp. 76-81) and he sees Jesus' justification as his resurrection. He also provides some thoughtful points about 'salvation-history' vs. 'apocalypticism' and christological continuity (I want to write a book on this one day). Importantly, Kirk sees justification/resurrection and the theodicy issue in Romans as a way of bringing together soteriology and ecclesiology. He states: "Paul is giving there a christological revision of the identity of the people of God and these, in turn, are the people who have been and will be justified ... Thus, while we may not want to say with N.T. Wright that justification is about ecclesiology before it is about soteriology, he is certainly correct to keep them in closest connection" (p. 223) and "This is yet another reason why ecclesiology and soteriology are inseperable: to be in Christ is to be in his body, the church; to be justified is to be in unioon with his resurrected body" (p. 224). Kirk is also well balanced on final justification, living out resurrection in the present live, but without shifting into a double justification of faith and works: "The death and resurrection of Jesus are sufficient and effective for justification, and they also both spill into the present such that the justified sinners are now able to do deeds of righteousness which are congruous with such a juridical verdict" (p. 225) and "In Paul, the future vindication is the consummation of the verdict of justification that is issued when the gospel message is heard with faith (4:24) it can be based on works that are performed within the orb of Jesus' death and resurrection because this is the person and place in which the grace of God has been manifested, because transfer into this realm is based solely on the grace of God, and because this is the place where there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Such a sphere of obedience is fitting for the God whose righteousness is manifest in the resurrected Christ" (pp. 226-27).

One or two minor criticism come to mind. I think Kirk could have been a little kinder to Luther, since it might be a matter of refining some of his points rather than leaving them behind (p. 4). Also, while covenant faithfulness is certainly part of what God's righteousness means (esp. if you read Rom. 1.16-17 in light of 3.3-4), but I think that God's righteousness is a far more comprehensive term than his "covenant faithfulness" and also connotes his intent to establish justice throughout all of creation (hence the echoes of Psalm 98 that Mark Seifrid and Douglas Campbell both agree on).

Kirk has written a very good book and reading it was certainly a bit of deja vu for me, Recommend to anyone who wants to go deeper into Romans.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

This understanding of Church and salvation seems to "deify" the Church, when the Church was from Luther or Paul's view born in faith and graced by faith.

So, it is not about religion, in this sense, as it is whatever one does in good conscience within a particular Church denomination and accountablity to the standards of the particular Church.

The Church was, at the same time, a sect of Judiasm, in that it "purified" the Jewish tradition. Some have equated the Church with the Essene sect of Judiasm. And others think that Christian, Jewish and Islam began in the same geographic location (and Buddhism even was part of the roots, or origins of these movements) and had similar roots.

J. R. Daniel Kirk said...

Note to self: Learn to play nicely with Martin!

Unknown said...

Well, certainly don't challenge him to a drinking match, Daniel, although I do know you can hold your own.

Nice to see your book getting the attention it deserves. I'm telling everyone who is gaga over the new book on justification by Wright that they ought to read yours, at least in addtion.

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